Monthly Archives: October 2012

Hurricane Sandy – bookmarks and apps for your mobile phone

My twitter feed is blowing up with people discussing Hurricane Sandy and its likely impact on the East Coast. In the interests of having somewhere useful to drop things that come up along the way, here's a live blog of sorts of the event. I'll put all of my Sandy stuff here, rather than have it go over multiple other entries. The top of this is collected info; the bottom is the blog collecting things without much sorting except chronological. Whenever possible, I'll point to things that work well on mobile phones where screen size and bandwidth are an issue.

Power outages

My power outage map collection is a good point of reference. It's organized by state, with phone numbers and twitter feeds for utility company news and information. It loads relatively slowly because of all of the graphics, so you'll want to bookmark your utility's pages and save their phone number before the storm hits.

On Twitter, I'm following a list @vielmetti/poweroutage with about 40 utility company feeds all in one place.

Weather maps and forecasts

There's a lot of excellent coverage of the storm from weather sites like the Weather Underground, which has a Hurricane Sandy page with a comprehensive set of forecasts and weather details. The mobile site m.wund.com/tropical compacts the information down as far as it can go, omitting all advertising and extraneous text display.

Saturday, October 27

Emergency alerts for New York City: Notify NYC.

New Jersey traffic: 511NJ.org.

New Jersey: Coastal evacuation route maps. Check these ahead of time, they are large (megabyte plus) PDF documents not suitable for tiny screens.

How much will it rain? A 5 day QPF (quantitative preciptation forecast) from HPC.

How much did it rain? Precipitation analysis from AHPS.

Connecticut's preparations for the storm are on the hash tag #ctsandy.

WNYC's Storm Surge – Flood Zone map covers New York and New Jersey.

Is the Federal Government at work? Check the Office of Personnel Management site.

Friday, October 26

NJ.com has news for New Jersey; a mobile site is at mobile.nj.com.

Windfinder has global, detailed wind forecasts for wind speed, direction, and wind gusts. Their mobile site is http://www.windfinder.mobi/, and there's also an iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile apps.

Reuters: 41 dead in Caribbean from Sandy.  11 in Cuba, 26 in Haiti.

The Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center shows a chance of flooding in the Susquehanna Valley.

The National Flood Outlook map shows a chance of flooding from coastal North Carolina north all the way to upstate New York, including the entire state of New Jersey.

Weather Canada's mobile site. An alert has been issued for Quebec.

New Hampshire: PSNH Outage List (for mobile).

Bangor (Maine) Hydro's mobile site.

Connecticut Light and Power has an outage report suitable for mobile phones.

FEMA's mobile app is available for iOS, Android and Blackberry. It contains "disaster safety tips, interactive lists for storing your emergency kit and emergency meeting location information, and a map with open shelters and open FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs)." The FEMA mobile web site is m.fema.gov.

The Red Cross hurricane application is available for iOS and Android. "Monitor conditions in your area or throughout the storm track, prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out – a must have for anyone who lives in an area where a hurricane may strike or has loved ones who do." 

Pepco has a mobile app for iOS, Android, and Blackberry.

The Wall Street Journal's Twitter list @WSJ/weather is a good collection of feeds.

SpaghettiModels.com has a full set of hurricane forecast information, with a compact hurricane forecast mobile site that's worth bookmarking on a mobile phone.

Lou Rosenfeld talk at UMSI: Beyond user research, building an organizational brain

I'm at Lou Rosenfeld's talk at the Michigan Union, with the title "Beyond user research: Building an organizational brain". Notes below.

 "You are not your user." The importance of talking to your users. The book "Design of Everyday Things", 1986 as a watershed event. Everyone understands this now, so "we won". But what does victory look like?

 Less of an information architect, more of an information therapist.

Reports from the user research group; information about site search analytics (in another group); logs from the call center (yet another group); reports from web analytics applications (yet another group); also "Voice of the Customer" (survey research); CRM applications like Salesforce; papers from a research center; papers from the net; a "mental model" diagram; brand architecture research; net promoter score (survey research).

The problem: where's the insight in a situation that's completely siloed. Risk to "user research" work is that it's siloed away. If you collaborate you're "the brain for the organization".

1. What vs. why. 

2. Quantitative vs qualitiative.

3. Organizational goals vs user goals.

4. Measure what you know vs. explore what you don't know. (Look for outliers, surprises, patterns.)

5. Statistical data vs. descriptive data.

How to succeed in getting user research to cooperate? Use data from other siloes. Examples: site search data from search logs; match persona with search log analysis; use analytics tools to frame questions about user behavior; field study + analytics combined. 

Example: query search for "lost" on Netflix.

How to get out of your silo: get out of your (physical) space; eat in the other cafeteria.

Boundary object: things that are common to a couple of fields. Linkages are connective areas of shared interest.

(The preso will be up in slideshare….these notes are incomplete of course)

Build a map – put the various interests on the map to generate the space that you can evaluate the various options. 

Stop using words – "useless, misunderstood terms impede progress". Meaningless buzzwords, none of which involve solving problems.

Build a dashboard (a failed metaphor) which incorporates information across a number of separate siloes. 

Hurricane #Sandy is being called a #snoreastercane if and when it hits the East Coast

It's a bit of a stretch, but the word "snor'eastercane" is supposedly a portmanteau of "snow", "nor'easter", and "hurricane". Credit to the Wall Street Journal for the name.

Odds are increasing that a hybrid “snor’eastercane” could make landfall near Greater New York early next week, with wide-ranging impacts affecting nearly the entire East Coast.

The Twitter hashtag is #snoreastercane and is in use already, with comments like this from @LoriG: "Unexpected consequence of global warming: having to learn the names of a bunch of new types of storms". Most of the storm traffic is on #sandy.

The other name for the storm is "Frankenstorm", from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center extended forecast for Thursday, October 25, 2012:

THE HIGH DEGREE OF BLOCKING FROM EASTERN NORTH AMERICA ACROSS THE
ENTIRE ATLANTIC BASIN IS EXPECTED TO ALLOW THIS UNUSUAL MERGER TO
TAKE PLACE, AND ONCE THE COMBINED GYRE MATERIALIZES, IT SHOULD
SETTLE BACK TOWARD THE INTERIOR NORTHEAST THROUGH HALLOWEEN,
INVITING PERHAPS A GHOULISH NICKNAME FOR THE CYCLONE ALONG THE
LINES OF "FRANKENSTORM", AN ALLUSION TO MARY SHELLEY'S GOTHIC
CREATURE OF SYNTHESIZED ELEMENTS.

 

Meteorologist Jeff Masters from the Weather Underground has this to say on October 24:

Sandy: a potential billion-dollar storm for the mid-Atlantic, New England, and Canada

[…] These models are predicting that Sandy will get caught up by the trough approaching the Eastern U.S., which will inject a large amount of energy into the storm, converting it to a powerful subtropical storm with a central pressure below 960 mb and sustained winds of 60 – 70 mph. Winds of this strength would likely cause massive power outages, as trees still in leaf take out power lines. Also of great concern are Sandy's rains. Given that ocean temperatures along the Northeast U.S. coast are about 5°F above average, there will be an unusually large amount of water vapor available to make heavy rain.

Another set of forecasts from Cliff Mass have some good graphics (go there for those) – the takeaway prediction: 

Sandy is now a category 1 hurricane with estimated maximum sustained winds of 85 mph and central pressure of 970 hPa (see picture).  My community is all aflutter about this storm, particularly since our forecast models are not in agreement–some suggest the storm will intensify and head straight in to the Middle Atlantic coastline, some take it out to sea, and others move it out to sea before swinging it westward to hit New England or the Canadian maritimes.

Here's the spaghetti model on October 24, showing the wide range of possible landfalls from Delaware to Newfoundland. There are more spaghetti models for Hurricane Sandy on Cyclocane and more on SpaghettiModels.com.

At201218_ensmodel
Your guess may be better than mine as to where this storm will make landfall in the northeastern US.

Impact in the Caribbean: One dead in Jamaica (CNN).


Windstream outage takes out phone service to customers across the Midwest

It started as two email messages in quick succession: both the City of Ann Arbor and the AATA reported that their phone service was out, due to a "regional outage". How bad is this outage, and what's the cause?

I did some searching and came across the very useful "outages" mailing list, where network operations staff goes to share network down problems. This pointed at Windstream as the source of the network problems, and expanded the scope of the problems well beyond Ann Arbor. One report of call failures listed the following cities:

Cedar Rapids
Springfield, IL
Madison, WI
Green Bay, WI
Minneapolis
Sioux Falls
Omaha
Des Moines
Dubuque
Fargo
St. Louis
Davenport
Kansas City
Detroit

as affected.

From a comment left on this page (thanks to Roy Schmidt)

From: Zach Wilcox Sent: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 12:38 PM Subject: Windstream Outage Update Importance: High This just in. TNOC REPORTING DWDM SYSTEM B19201 POSSIBLE TRIPLE FAILURE. 1ST ISSUE, OC-192 CARD IN TERRE HAUTE, IN (WE ARE UNABLE TO SEE THAT NODE). TECH IS ENROUTE, ETA IS 45 MINUTES. ALSO, SHUTTLING A CARD FROM CHAMPAIGN, IL, ETA IS 1.5 HOURS. 2ND ISSUE, FIBER CUT IN GREENCASTLE, IN. ONE END IS SPLICED. THE SECOND END IS BEING PREPPED, SPLICING ANTICIPATED AT 0945. 3RD ISSUE, FIBER CUT IN MILWAUKEE, WI. STILL DEVELOPING DETAILS ON THAT. LOOKING INTO POSSIBLE REROUTING OF CIRCUITS TO RESTORE SS7 TRAFFIC. Zach Wilcox Ener Tel Communications

This page is getting a lot of traffic for the outage; here's a map showing where some of that traffic is coming from, which approximates the boundaries of the issue.

Picture 48

News coverage of this seems to depend on whether the newspaper itself was affected by the outage. Some of those stories follow.

Lansing (Michigan) State Journal

The cause appears to be a cut fiber-optic cable in Wisconsin and an equipment malfunction in Indiana, said David Avery, a Windstream spokesman.

AnnArbor.com

The outage, which started about 9 a.m., according to the City of Ann Arbor, was affecting customers of the vendor Windstream in several states, a woman who answered the phone at a company call center said. The company did not have an estimate about when service would be restored.

WNEM, Channel 5, Saginaw

Authorities in Michigan are reporting scattered problems with phone service around the state.
Locally, a technical problem caused a phone outage to a number of Mid-Michigan customers of Windstream, a company based in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Michigan Radio

Phone outages are being reported across mid-Michigan today as officials from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids say they're experiencing technical issues with local calls. 

Tracker.outages.org: Unplanned: Windstream/PAETEC Voice Outage

Trouble Ticket: 122813

More as news rolls in.

Bullet voting, or plunking, as a voting strategy in “pick n” elections

How many votes should you cast when you are voting in a contest which has multiple candidates? Consider a ballot with 5 candidates for 4 spots, where you can pick any 4 of 5. You're wildly enthusiastic about 2 candidate, neutral on 1 candidates, and opposed to 2 candidates. Here are your choices:

1. Undervote the ticket, casting only 2 votes for your favorites and leaving 3 votes behind.

2. Undervote the ticket, casting votes for your favorites and the neutral, leaving 2 votes behind.

3. Cast 4 votes, leaving none behind, and choosing one of the candidates you are opposed to to round out the ballot.

The strategy is called "bullet voting", and it has some pros and cons which are neatly spelled out in this 2005 blog post from Larry Davidson

So, to bullet-vote or not? The choice depends entirely on which scenario you think is more probable. If the race for fourth place is between your two favorite candidates, you should bullet-vote. If the race for fourth place is between your second choice and someone you strongly dislike, you should not bullet-vote. Maybe it’s not how they would handle it on Numb3rs, but math can’t give you a definite answer here. 

Bullet voting is also known as "plunking". The general case of voting systems being gamed by strategic voters is more common than you'd expect, since it can give a coordinated minority the ability to decide an election over a disorganized majority.

Hoarder’s LA map collection goes to the Los Angeles Public Library

THE L.A. Times has a great story about a map collection that is going to the Los Angeles Public Library after the collector died, leaving no heirs.

Stashed everywhere in the 948-square-foot tear-down were maps. Tens of thousands of maps. Fold-out street maps were stuffed in file cabinets, crammed into cardboard boxes, lined up on closet shelves and jammed into old dairy crates.

The find included all sorts of rare materials – here's only a partial list:

"He has every type of map imaginable. There's a 1956 pictorial map of Lubbock, Texas. He's got a 1942 Jack Renie Street Guide of Los Angeles," [Glen] Creason said. "He has four of the first Thomas Bros. guides from 1946. Those are very hard to find. The one copy we have is falling apart because it's been so heavily used. We had to photocopy it."

Creason was also enthralled by the discovery of several "Mapfox" Los Angeles street guides published in 1944. Creason said in his 32-year library career he had never seen one.

An earlier LA Times story has a profile of Glen Creason, the librarian who will be working to catalog the new collection.

Elixir Vitae Coffee and Tea, E Liberty St, Ann Arbor next to Liberty St Robot Supply

I had my first chance to sit at the new Elixir Vitae cafe on East Liberty today. The store is one of two with that name, after the Cafe Ambrosia store on Maynard Street changed its name. (Same ownership, just a new name, because of conflicts with too many other coffee businesses called Ambrosia).

Some impressions:

There's a lot more sunshine in the new cafe than there ever was in the old one. Maynard is shaded by the parking structure and by Tower Plaza, but East Liberty has a nice south-facing window and light coming in.

The general ambiance is about the same, but not as many people have discovered the new cafe just yet. I'm expecting it to eventually get something between a Main Street and a State Street sense to it, but for now, I was mostly alone in using the place for an extended typing session.

The local events bulletin board has a good selection to look at – it's not quite as big as the Maynard location, which has in my opinion one of the finest bulletin boards in town.

All in all a solid showing and a good new place to go.